Many consumers would not know it for its name, but radio frequency identification (RFID) is a wireless technology that has existed for more than 60 years. It is the technology that backs up access control of employees and guests in buildings as well as contactless payment systems that do not require swiping of cards through a machine. Many tollway systems in the world have been enhanced and made efficient by utilizing RFID in collecting highway toll fees (RFID Journal, 2013). Inventory tracking systems in merchandising and trucking services are also popular users of RFID-backed technology systems (NCL, 2009).
RFID in Payment Systems
One popular form of RFID payment system is the toll-pass system that operates many tollways around the world. Electronic toll passes issued to vehicle owners allow their vehicles to drive through toll booths without stopping to pay the toll fee. The chip in the toll pass transmits information to a reader that is installed in the toll booth. When the information is read, the reader’s location and time and date of the reading are transmitted along with it to a computer system linked to a database that contains information like how much toll fee is to be paid and which bank account will be billed for the toll.
Another familiar RFID payment system is the one that operates in many gas stations which allow gasoline purchases to be paid with by flashing an RFID tag in front of a reader placed on the gas pump.
Transportation systems are another popular area for RFID technology applications around the world, and are often proprietary. Examples would be SmarTrip that is the RFID-enabled payment system in the Washington, D.C. Metro system, EasyCard in Taiwan Metro, Nagasaki Smart Card system in Japan and OysterCard for London Transportation (Huang, 2009). The best known and arguably most remarkable RFID-based payment system, the Octopus system in Hong Kong, enables users to use a single smart card to pay for everything else in the transport area aside from the transport fare (Huang, 2009).
RFID Credit Cards
The ubiquity and usefulness of credit cards in paying for purchases almost anywhere have long been established. RFID-enabled credit cards allow contactless settlement of purchase transactions, without need for swiping credit cards at the counter, making it much more convenient to complete buying and selling transactions. Embedded in the credit card issued to consumers, the RFID tag allows a credit card to be a wireless mobile payment device that can charge purchases made in gas stations, stores, theaters and other locations. RFID credit cards are seen as a strong alternative to smartphone-based contactless payment systems that utilize another technology called Near Field Communication (NFC) (Edwards, 2012).
There are security issues leveled against the use of RFID credit cards, as it appears to open up opportunities for fraud and online transaction theft when unauthorized charges are made without the permission from or knowledge of the credit card owner. This is because RFID credit cards require a new authentication code for every transaction unlike the traditional magnetic stripe card with a static authentication code that is the three-digit CVV number on the back of the card. These codes can be falsely generated from a distance using mobile scanning equipment that could be easily sourced on eBay for example and used to encode valid credit card information on a blank card (Edwards, 2012). The blank card can be used only for a single transaction provided the credit card owner does not use the legitimate before the steal is completed. Mastercard and Visa are known RFID card issuers. According to Smart Card Association, the number of RFID-enabled credit cards in circulation is in the range of 100 million (Edwards, 2012).
A number of security protection has been presented however. Among them is wrapping RFID credit cards in foil or using a metal-lined paper sleeve to hold them. Another is a new proposal that involves “switch” devices on the RFID credit card itself that will render the card unreadable by illegally-operated portable scanners. To switch the card on and pay for the purchase, consumers can hold the card in a specific area such as the logo. The card is then switched off and becomes unreadable when it is replaced in the wallet.
Edwards, John. 2012. “RFID Credit Cards: A Hacker’s Playground.” The Mobility Hub. 6 July 2012. Web. 4 April 2013.
Huang, Chia-Hung. 2009. An Overview of RFID Technology, Application, and Security/Privacy Threats and Solutions. Spring 2009. Web. 7 April 2013.
National Consumers League. Technology: All About RFID. 2009. Web. 3 April 2013.
”Payment Systems”. RFID Journal. N.d. Web. 3 April 2013.
Smart Border Alliance. RFID Feasibility Study Final Report. Web. 3 April 2013.